When the brilliant American general David Petraeus took charge of the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq in 2007, he issued a manual to his tactical commanders setting out the detailed plans for this surge. Tellingly, the US air force played little part in his scheme. Petraeus’s manual relegated airpower to an appendix that only took up five pages out of almost 2,000. The subsequent success of the operation, against all predictions, appeared to justify Petraeus’s wisdom in treating America’s air force almost as an irrelevance.
For the distinguished military historian Martin Van Creveld, this experience is indicative of the declining influence of airpower over the last six decades. As his remarkable, wide-ranging book argues, it is a mistake to believe that might in the skies is usually decisive, or even significant, in any